This week I have been enjoying Spring Break–the temperatures climbing into the 50’s, the warmth of the sun through my open car sunroof, the birds chirping from dawn to dusk, the flowers poking their necks out from the ground… The time off teaching has allowed me to travel down to the barn every day, five days in a row (as opposed to two or three times with trainer Kim riding three times). It really has been an experiment to see what type of progress I could make if I took control of Gugi’s training. I went into the week not knowing what would happen without Kim working her. What would I learn from Ngugi’s Word if I truly listened? Would she regress and basically tell me that she rejects my riding? Would she tolerate my riding but remind me that progress would be fleeting? Or, would she accept my riding and tell me that progress really is possible all on my own?
I’m confident that after the week, Ngugi’s Word told me the latter. I am at the point where my riding really is training or shaping her as opposed to just riding to make it through what she gives me. This week I successfuly created the ride I wanted to ride, and by the time day five (lesson day) came along, I actually jumped Gugi for the first time! I don’t have it on video, but I do have two videos of me cantering yesterday:

Of course, it’s not perfect. I’m still working on what Charles de Kunffy and describes as “the adhesive seat” or “moving to stay still.” I tend to lock up and rather than lift out of the saddle to allow Gugi’s back to naturally rise and fall below me with the rhythm her canter, I perch on the saddle and move against her. How does Gugi respond? Well, you’ll notice moments where she tosses her head, swishes her tail, or shows a tense canter that is either too fast or not forward flowing enough (so as to say it’s stiff, like me). But then there are moments where I remember feeling the coordination needed to ride “in” the canter as opposed to “on” the canter. In those moments I’m lifted far enough out of the saddle to release pressure off Gugi’s back, but I’m also more aware of my thighs and how I can control the flow of her canter movements with my thighs. I see a few moments in the videos where this does happen and we look connected.

So what’s holding me back from establishing the canter I want–the good canter–right from the start, right from the moment when I cue Gugi into the canter? Without a doubt, there’s still an element of fear that exists. In total (including the months prior to Gugi’s “locking up”), I’ve probably only cantered her 15 times or so. And, unfortunately, I have yet to fully “shake out” (reference to previous Florence and the Machine post) the image of Gugi throwing her previous trainer. Plus, every horse has her unique canter movement. Some seem to lag behind your leg in an top heavy, up-down movement. Some canters feel soft and forward floating. Gugi’s canter is still so new, so unfamiliar to me that I have yet to find the right words to describe her movements. I suppose that I’ll know when I’ve reached my goals with her canter when I can in fact put it into words.

In the meantime, Ngugi’s Word tells me that I’m on the right track!